Since its launch more than twenty years ago, Evangelicals and Catholics Together has been seeking common ground on a slew of thorny theological issues, from the Lord’s Supper to baptism to the Virgin Mary. The group’s most recent statement, “The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage,” was published in the March issue of First Things. The document’s signers include Protestants, Catholics, and Anabaptists. Excerpts follow:
As the most venerable and reliable basis for domestic happiness, marriage is the foundation of a just and stable society. Yet in our times this institution has been gravely weakened by the sexual revolution and the damage it has done to marriage and the family: widespread divorce; the dramatic increase in out-of-wedlock births; the casual acceptance of premarital sex and cohabitation; and a contraceptive mentality which insists that sex has an arbitrary relation to procreation. In this environment, families fragment, the poor suffer, and children are especially vulnerable and at risk. The decline of marriage culture is evident throughout the world, and where it is evident, the common good is imperiled.
Christians have too often been silent about biblical teaching on sex, marriage, and family life. Too many have accommodated themselves to the spirit of our age. As Evangelicals and Catholics who speak to and from our various communities of faith, we are committed to setting forth the Christian teaching on marriage. In a few matters, we do not speak with one voice: We hold somewhat different views about the morality of contraception, the legitimacy of divorce, and clerical celibacy. But on the crucial and fundamental truth that marriage is a stable union based on the complementarity of male and female, we are fully united.
Our Situation Today
Marriage is in crisis throughout the Western world. The data from the United States alone tell an unmistakable – and unmistakably sad – story. Fifty years ago, some 70 percent of American adults were married; today the figure is just over 50 percent. Then, close to 90 percent of children lived with their natural parents; today fewer than two-thirds do. The birth rate has declined, and the abortion rate has climbed from less than 1 percent of live births to over 20 percent.
Everyone suffers from the current crisis in marriage, but some suffer more than others. A growing class divide is becoming alarmingly clear. College-educated men and women marry and are unlikely to get divorced. The less educated are less likely to marry, and those who do so are three times more likely to get divorced. Rates of illegitimacy are even more striking. A very small percentage of college-educated women have children out of wedlock (6 percent). Nearly half of women without a college education now have children out of wedlock.
In considering the demise of marriage culture and the decline of the institution of marriage, we are profoundly aware of the challenge posed by the Lord, that “whatever you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). The effects of the decline of marriage on children are dramatic, unequal, and deeply disturbing. Among the well-educated and economically well-off, the traditional family remains the norm. This is no longer true for children born to less educated and less affluent women. By age fourteen, nearly half of these children no longer live with both parents, posing dire consequences for their futures. Young men raised in broken families are more likely to go to prison. Young women in these circumstances are more likely to become pregnant as unwed teenagers. The dramatic decline of marriage is a major factor in the misery of many in our society.
Christians are implicated in this decline. Evangelicals and Catholics are more likely to divorce than they were fifty years ago. Moreover, Christians have adopted to no small extent the contraceptive mindset that in society at large has separated sex from reproduction and so weakened the centrality and attraction of marriage.
Too often, Christians lack the courage to which both the Cross and Resurrection summon us. Like the disciples taken aback at Jesus’ strong words about divorce, we shrink from the full truth and deny the nobility of Christian teaching on sexuality, making excuses for our own failures and for those in our communities. We fail to hold each other and our communities accountable. We forget that the covenant of marriage carries obligations of fidelity and mutual love and is morally binding on the spouses. We forget that the Bible again and again reminds us we must die to sin and live solely for Christ.
Light and Salt
...We must find ways to distinguish true marriage from its distortion, and we must do so without abandoning the public square. We owe our fellow citizens a socially engaged witness to the truth about marriage, which, with the family, is the unalterable foundation of a healthy, humane society. The time is approaching – indeed, in some instances it has already arrived – when Christians in this country will suffer abuse for upholding the truth about marriage. We encourage our fellow Christians to stand firm in obedience to Christ, for that obedience is the most compassionate service we can offer society. In doing so, we must strive to heal the wounds of a confused and broken culture, to foster human flourishing, and to honor the God who created human beings in his own image, male and female.